How’d You Get That Shot? Safari Photography Behind the Scenes with JD Armistead

Written by Thomson Safaris

Indian Ocean at night – Zanzibar, Tanzania
Photo: JD Armistead

Capturing nature’s most awe-inspiring moments takes much more than good luck and a quick trigger finger. Careful planning, serious skill, and a little bit of luck are needed to create the kinds of unforgettable images that make an African safari so enticing, even from thousands of miles away. The photographs these guests snapped are so impressive, we wanted to learn more about what went into them. In this ongoing series, our most avid photographers share some of the secrets behind the stunning images that make us all wonder “How’d you get that shot?”

JD Armistead joins us today.

About the Photo

What do you like about this shot?

What I liked best about this shot is that it captured the beauty and feeling of the scene with virtually no editing required – this is a raw photo with only selective sharpening in Lightroom. My least favorite aspect was the cloud movement because of the 30 second exposure – but that was a small trade off to get the sky packed with stars and the glowing Indian ocean.

What type of planning was involved in order to capture this image?

Honestly, not much planning was involved. We got home from dinner and this was the view from the front porch of our room – so I grabbed the camera and got after it.

Which camera did you use, and why?

I used my Sony A7RII with the Zeiss 16-35 wide open (16mm at F/4.0). BTW – the A7RII was not a great choice for safari shooting because the focus was too slow. However, the newly released Sony A9 looks to have awesome sports focus capability as well as 20 fps shooting. So PJ Hicks – lookout – I’ll be back!

Which settings did you use? Are there any technical tips you have for photographers who are more advanced?

PJ Hicks showed us lots of night photography tricks during our trip (not something most people would expect during a safari – right)? A formula he showed us that works almost every time as a starting point was ISO 3200 and a 30 second exposure with the lens wide open. I used a Velcro strap to lash the camera to the balcony rail (Paul also showed us how to improvise quickly to get the shot before you lose the moment).

Which tools, during either the shooting or editing process, did you use to enhance the photo?

There is literally no editing beyond sharpening (selectively with adjustment brush) in Lightroom.

What advice do you have for safari goers who want to capture the perfect shot?

The best advice I could give safari shooters looking for that perfect shot is to keep your camera on ready to shoot because you can’t plan when that opportunity will present itself. One thing you can be assured of is that as soon as you turn your camera off & put the lens cap back on – that will be the moment when something fantastic happens and you won’t be ready to shoot.

What’s your favorite tip to give fellow photographers?

My best tip for fellow photographers is to not just focus on getting shots of the big five – because if that’s all you look for you’ll miss everthing else. Many of my favorite shots from this trip ended up being landscape scenes (like this one) that I would have missed if I was only looking for lions.


About JD Armistead

How many years of professional photography experience do you have?

I’ve been shooting professionally for 8-10 years on & off – right now I shoot mainly real estate and architecture.

What’s your favorite thing to photograph?

My favorite subject to photograph is equestrian events – especially fox hunts with both the hounds and horses. My least favorite subject is family portraits (hate them).

What do you think of Tanzania or a safari as an overall photographic opportunity? What made it special to photograph?

This Tanzania trip was the trip of a lifetime in terms of photo opportunity. Getting to learn from the best (PJ Hicks) was the best part!

Where can we find your work?

Lots of my shots are posted on my website at
There is also a long (too long for many people) video of our safari below:


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